Review: Theatre Frisco Presents “A Little Night Music”

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  • Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic

Under the direction of Neale Whitmore, the talented cast and crew of Theatre Frisco crafted a vibrant and dynamic performance of Stephen Sondheim’s celebrated work, “A Little Night Music.” Their stunning production sprung to life with a high octane array of rich vocals and sleek choreography wrapped in the deep textures of romance and intrigue.

“A Little Night Music,” inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,”takes the audience on a chaotic, yet enchanting, romp through a mind-bending love triangle set in Sweden during the early 1900s. In this fast-paced, ever-shifting emotional landscape, frustrations abound, personalities collide and old flames reignite amid an explosive backdrop of unanticipated twists and turns.

Theatre Frisco’s interpretation of this multiple Tony Award-winning work was intensely exuberant, sensual, highly entertaining and, at times, supremely heart-wrenching. The cast and crew assembled here crafted a dynamic onstage space for the audience to explore the deep emotional terrain of Sondheim’s popular musical.

In his role as the successful, middle-aged lawyer, “Fredrik Egerman,” the talented John Wenzel delivered an engaging and well-rounded performance showcasing an exceptional voice and wide emotional range. Rae Hillman who played his wife, “Anne Egerman,” captured her character’s flighty persona, naivety and youthful exuberance perfectly. As “Frederick’s” 19-year-old son, “Henrik,” Eric Feldman did an exceptional job infusing the production with a passionately dark and brooding performance as his character became enraged at the spectacle unfolding around him. M. Shane Hurst and Andi Allen as the dysfunctional duo of the swaggering “Count Carl-Magnus” and his wife, “Countess Charlotte” offered up some of the show’s more hilarious moments. Together, they expertly portrayed the qualities of a lamentable, yet comedically turbulent, relationship.

Beyond the primary roles, the collection of supreme vocal talent present in the Liebeslider Singer quintet was also remarkable. Together, Gabriel Ethridge, Camille Skye, Rachel Davies, Aaron Gallagher and Gabie Hocson began and ended the show with witty retorts similar to a Greek chorus from their characters “Mr. Lindquist,”“Mrs. Nordstrom,” “Mrs. Anderrsen,” Mr. Erlanson,” and “Mrs. Segerstrom.” In addition to these roles, Barbara Catrett, Sara Massoudi, Robin Clayton, and Dillon Hanson performing as “Madame Armfeldt,” “Frederika,” “Petra,” and “Frid,” each delivered dynamic performances.

Set design, courtesy of Rodney Dobbs, and lighting from Lisa Miller helped transform the theatre’s intimate space into a versatile and dynamic setting and allowed the cast to access, and connect with, the audience in an intimate, engaging way. Under the exceptional musical direction of Vahn Phollurxa, the talented live orchestra gave a top-notch performance driving the action on stage and culminated in a fantastic rendition of “A Little Night Music’s” most cherished song, “Send in the Clowns.”

This highly-recognized classic soared to new heights in the sweet vocals of the gifted star of the show, Karen Raehpour, in her role as “Desirée Armfeldt.”After a hiatus from the theatre to focus on her other passions, Karen Raehpour emerged in the DFW-area to bring “A Little Night Music’s” starring role of to life. She aptly captured the desire, confidence and vulnerability of this complex character and enchanted the audience with a powerfully endearing portrayal.

Karen Raehpour took a few moments out of her demanding rehearsal schedule to share her perspective on playing the role of “Desirée Armfelt,” her interpretation of the themes present in “A Little Night Music” and even offered some sage advice for aspiring young actors and actresses:

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Q: Tell us a little about Desirée Armfelt. Who is she and what aspects of her persona did you most hone in on when interpreting this dynamic role?

“Desiree Armfeldt is a famous actress, and single mother in her forties, living in the early 1900’s Sweden. She is upper crust and embedded in high society. I think in interpreting Desirée the first trait that pops out for me is the confidence and strength that a woman would have to have had, to be so independent during this time in our history. Desirée didn’t have the luxury of the many career opportunities women have today. There was no status, land ownership, or control as a woman without marrying into it through one’s husband. So to have found success at one of the few careers that a woman could have (being an actress), and to get away with staying single while still being well respected, and almost adored by the public, is no small feat! Women like her paved the way toward the (almost) equality we enjoy as women today. But more so than her confidence, I am drawn to her romantic side. Here’s a woman who could have chosen any powerful man to attach herself to for status and comfort, who refused to settle. She resisted the temptation to use marriage as a power play toward financial freedom and status (as was taught to her by her social ladder- climbing Mother), but instead, holds out for Love.”

Q: What elements of this celebrated 1970’s-era musical do you believe translate most effectively to contemporary audiences?

“As with most great works of art, the universal themes at the center of this plot easily translate fifty years later, and will most likely continue to translate for years to come! What is the meaning of life? What are we here for? Love. As Fredrika so beautifully puts it in one of the closing scenes…”It must be worth it…it’s all there is, isn’t it?” Love imagined, yearned for, won or lost, young love, mature love…it’s what we live for. The intersecting love triangles in this piece keep us entertained as we watch the characters fumble with the wrong and right partners. It’s a fast paced, entertaining musical comedy with beautiful melodies and cleverly written situations. That formula works no matter what year we’re in.”

Q: What advice would you give up-and-coming performers beginning their onstage journey here in the DFW area?

“Acting isn’t just a career, it's an art form. What’s right for one person might not be right for the next. So given that disclaimer, I would say: follow your dreams, unless they get in the way of other dreams. The skills you learn in your twenties don’t disappear. Theater people are my tribe, no matter what city I’m in, or how long I’ve known them. Don’t get so caught up with “making money” that you underestimate quality community theaters like Theatre Frisco. Under the talented leadership of Howard and Joyce Korn (Board Directors) and Neale Whitmore (Artistic Director), this theater’s full houses, amazing costumes, and live band make acting a joyful and meaningful artistic experience. There’s a time to branch out into the world and a time to come home. If you know in your heart that theater is your home, it will always be there with open arms to welcome you, no matter how long it's been since you called.”

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Theatre Frisco’s “A Little Night Music,” directed by Neale Whitmore, runs through August 11th, 2019. This production stars Karen Raehpour as “Desiree Armfeldt,” and features Barbara Catrett as “Madame Armfeldt,” Sara Massoudi as “Frederika Armfeldt”, John Wenzel as “Frederik Armfeldt,” Rae Hillman as “Anne Egerman,” Eric Feldman as “Henrik Egerman,” Robin Clayton as “Petra,” M. Shane Hurst as “Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm,” Andi Allen as “Countess Charlotte Malcolm,” Dillon Hanson as “Frid,” Aaron Gallagher as “Mr. Erlanson,” Rachel Davies as “Mrs. Anderssen,” Gabriel Ethridge as “Mr. Lindquist,” Camille Skype as “Mrs. Nordstrom,” and Gabie Hocson as “Mrs. Segstrom.”

Secure your seat for a performance of Theatre Frisco’s “A Little Night Music” by visiting theatrefrisco.com or by calling the box office at 972-370-2266.

Photo credit:  Alex Rain